Tuesday, April 30, 2013

We have transitioned from a market economy to a market society

One of the most agonizing aspects of our current situation is how so many people who consider themselves religious have unconsciously surrendered their religious moral convictions in the arena of political economy. A number of critics have been warning for decades that the unfettered capitalism unleashed by deregulation's dismantling of the New Deal would cause a deep and dangerous moral and spiritual decline. A few years ago I found an interesting debate, from the late 1970s if I recall correctly, between a conservative Protestant theologian, and an acolyte of Milton Friedman. In no way could the theologian be considered a Marxist or a socialist, but he was fervent and unrelenting in his attacks on Friedman's ideas, which he derisively called anarcho-capitalism. Yale political science professor Jim Sleeper has written some powerful articles exploring the tensions between unfettered capitalism and morality, such as his short but brilliant Conservative Contradictions.

Hopefully, it is a sign that even business elites are getting uneasy about the cultural destruction being wrought by their unfettered capitalism, that Paul B. Farrell, writes in, of all places, MarketWatch, Capitalism is killing our morals, our future. The article is about Harvard political philosophy professor Michael Sandel, who argues that our market economy has become so all encompassing in its power and influence that almost literally everything is for sale, including goods that just a few decades ago were seen as belonging firmly in the public sector, such as health, education, public safety, national security, criminal justice, environmental protection, and recreation. We have unconsciously, and without our considered approval, Sandel writes, transitioned from a market economy to a market society.

James Hansen retires from NASA

Whenever I dispair at the utter insanity of the public debate, I think of what it must be like to be James Hansen.  He has had the unfortunate timing of doing perhaps the most important scientific work on the planet (and doing an absolutely terrific job of it) in an era when some big bucks are funding an open attack on science and rational thought.

Even though I came through the public schools in a time when science education was almost infinitely funded, I also knew people who often prayed that "God would give them strength to keep their faith when surrounded by a sea of Godless secularism."  I admit I have never quite understood such people.  I have experienced so much pure joy over the years in discovering new things that I simply cannot imagine anyone foregoing "the pleasure of finding things out" for religious reasons.  But for many, there is a much greater comfort in finding a belief set that explains "everything".  As the saying goes, "Ignorance is bliss."  Lot of blissed-out people out there trying to avoid life's pop quizzes.  So when some charlatan comes along preaching that someone like James Hansen is an evil person who wants to make their lives more difficult, there are PLENTY of people who chose to believe this slander than someone who might harsh their buzz.

So anyway, Hansen is retiring from NASA—mostly so he can raise his intensity in his fight against the forces of ignorance without having to represent an institutionally cautious space agency.  I wish him luck.  Hansen is a BIG favorite of mine—courageous, disciplined, hard-working, thoughtful, and smarter than even the description "rocket scientist" would suggest.  Type his name in the blog search box and you will discover I have mentioned him favorably before.

The man has his work cut out for him.  As the Scripps Institute just pointed out, we are approaching 400 ppm CO2 for the first time in 3 million years.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Iceland votes

The vote this weekend in Iceland may seems confusing but it really is not.  The Social Democrats who managed the recovery from the financial disasters of 2008 did a pretty good job—at least by the standards of Irish politicians.  But the "prosperity" they engineered was pretty weak tea and lots of Icelanders are still hurting.  But the SDP wouldn't have lost the election if they hadn't decided that it would be a good idea to join the Euro.  Frankly, I have NO idea what they were thinking.  The Icelandic solution to their financial catastrophe would have been nearly impossible if they had been using the Euro.  This little factoid was so obvious, the voters turned to the parties that had allowed the banking crises to occur in the first place simply because they promised to stay away from the Euro.

This isn't really a left-right matter.  When it comes to cultural issues, most Icelanders are on the same page (a page that puts them on the far left in places like USA.)  NO, this vote was about the Euro and the Euro lost.  If the SDP had been anti-Euro, they probably could have stayed in power for a long time.  So the political parties that had been in power in 2008 were forgiven simply because they claimed they had learned their lessons and were absolutely committed to monetary independence.  The only question is: Now that the old parties are back in power, will they revert to their old neoliberal swinishness, or will they chart a better path?

The 787 flies again

There are many good reasons why flying wasn't done successfully by humans until 1903.  It's really, really hard to do.  And flying didn't become "routine" until the late 1960s.  Folks who talk about how flying used to be so "glamorous" are talking about an era when it was very expensive and quite honestly, hazardous to your health.

When I was in the sixth grade, we had a family friend who worked for Northwest Airlines.  He came to visit and I got instructions from my mother that I wasn't supposed to ask him about airplanes because times were difficult for him.  It seems he was on a team that was investigating why one of their aircraft types was mysteriously crashing.  The problem airplane was the Lockheed L-188 Electra and two of them had broken apart in mid-air.  I ignored my mother's instructions because I was so damn curious—I mean, how often did I get ask a real airplane question to a real airplane expert?  Turns out, the folks at Northwest had NO idea why their Electras were falling apart and were about to ground the whole fleet until they found out.  This experience left quite an impression on me—not only because my folks found out about my curiosity, but because it was the first time I had encountered a really smart adult who didn't have an answer to a serious question.  Eventually, the airlines would just give up on the Electra—this was the era when new and better aircraft were still showing up on a regular basis.

The Electra did not destroy Lockheed as an airplane company.  They are still with us.  But there is an example of a flawed aircraft design bringing down not only a company, but the aircraft industry of a nation.  In 1953, the Brits showed up with the first jet-powered airliner called the de Havilland DH 106 Comet.  It was stunningly good-looking and seemingly gave British aircraft an insurmountable lead.  And it would have except for one small problem—they had a nasty tendency to break apart in midair too.  Eventually they would discover what was causing this problem, but by then the industry had moved past the Comet.  Because even though the fix had been implemented for the catastrophic failures, there were still the maintenance headaches that came from the stunningly bad design decision to locate the engines at the wing root.  British aircraft manufacture would never really recover.  Yes, it had a hand in Concorde—but that was a joint venture with the French who largely made it work.  And there are still British parts in some Airbuses.

Which leads us to Boeing.  This is a company that was the primary beneficiary of the problems at Lockheed and the Brits.  They didn't have these sorts of catastrophes.  Until the Dreamliner.  Turns out neoliberal business practices and aircraft manufacture are not a good mix.  So for the first time in my memory, a new aircraft type from Boeing was grounded.  Yes, the problem was not an airframe failure.  This was a battery problem.  Even so, there are probably red faces in some of the engineering teams.  This is NOT supposed to happen to Boeing.  And I am sure there are folks in the aircraft business who are wondering—if they can get something as simple as a battery pack wrong, should we be worrying about something bigger?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Cultural power

There was a lot of loose talk about cultural power back when I was in college.  And why not?  After all, we were up against a government armed with nukes—the only response we could muster was changing the culture.  Much of this was just silly—when I consider how much hot air was exchanged over subjects like long hair, I cringe to this day.  Some cultural victories like casual dress were immediately co-opted—dressing like a hippie did not stop the war in Vietnam but it certainly made Levi Strauss and Co. VERY rich.

I tend to look on my infatuation with cultural change as one example of my foolish youth.  After all, we won all the important cultural battles but that did not prevent those hippies from electing some of the more reactionary governments in USA history.  But while culture may be no match for militarism or the naked greed and corruption of finance capitalism, it isn't nothing.  And the established power structure understood this.  This is why they made such a big deal over long hair.  But where they chose to make their cultural stand was their old reliable—religion.  They have been using religion to enhance and legitimize their power for so long, bishops are on the back row of a chess board—right next to the king and queen.

This time, the choice of religion was especially inspired.  Political progressives had abandoned the field.  Sure, the civil rights movement was initially led by the preacher's kids like Martin Luther King.  Malcolm X, who taught that Christianity was the religion of the slavers became a Muslim divine.  Even the traditionally reactionary Roman Catholic Church had the (short-lived) cultural outbreak of Vatican II.  But the overwhelming majority of educated white liberals were aggressively irreligious.

Not only did the various forms of religious fundamentalism receive quite lavish funding during the cultural push-back, other more secular intellectual pursuits became fundamentalist too.  The most obvious example was economics.  Just as the economic profession was declaring itself a science, it became almost as purely religious as it had ever been.  Why just yesterday, Paul Krugman wrote:
Yet austerity maintained and even strengthened its grip on elite opinion. Why?

Part of the answer surely lies in the widespread desire to see economics as a morality play, to make it a tale of excess and its consequences. We lived beyond our means, the story goes, and now we’re paying the inevitable price. Economists can explain ad nauseam that this is wrong, that the reason we have mass unemployment isn’t that we spent too much in the past but that we’re spending too little now, and that this problem can and should be solved. No matter; many people have a visceral sense that we sinned and must seek redemption through suffering — and neither economic argument nor the observation that the people now suffering aren’t at all the same people who sinned during the bubble years makes much of a dent. more
I can think of no better sign that "elite" opinion is seriously questioning the cultural assumptions of finance capitalism than to see some high muckity-muck of the Church of England questioning banking practices.  This is the same institution that once defended the Opium Wars, after all.

Saturday toons 27APR13

Friday, April 26, 2013

Economic austerity as a crime against humanity

One of the more annoying characteristics of the Leisure Class is their insistence that everyone is like them in that everyone wants to be as perfectly useless as possible.  That simply is not true.  There are many of us who want to accomplish as much as is possible with the abilities one has—to die leaving behind a long and interesting obituary.  Veblen called this desire "The Instinct of Workmanship."  So when the Predators shut down the real economy for fun and profit, their biggest crime is the destruction of human potential.  You could run an interesting continent with Europe's (and the rest of the world's) unemployed and the unemployed are NOT happy about this current state of affairs.  It goes against their nature.

Long-term unemployment not only harms the immediate victim, it causes destruction for several generations.  My parents had miserable childhoods because of the Great Depression.  That trauma affected the way they acted their whole lives.  And their fearfulness was passed on to their children in countless ways.  People don't instantly recover when an economic calamity ends just like people carry the scars of war to their graves.

Here is a Portugese parliamentarian bemoaning the fact that everything their country had built since the Carnation Revolution—most especially a generation of highly educated young—was being sacrificed to accommodate the crackpot ideas of the most reactionary economic thinkers to have ever walked the earth. 37 years of building followed by two years of extreme destruction.  Since any Predator jackass can kick down the barn, that roughly 19:1 ratio of building to destruction seems about right.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Laugh when the self-important fail in public

Folks, you simply cannot imagine how much pleasure I am taking from seeing Rogoff and Reinhart's Growth in the Time of Debt getting trashed on such a primal level.  This study smelled to high heaven when it was released in 2010.  The problem was, you could make fun of their errors in logic but to a third-party low-information bystander, whatever you said was just your opinion against a couple of big-league Harvard economics profs.  And so the Predator Class conventional wisdom just rolls over everything.  Rogoff and Reinhart not only convinced the usual suspects like Paul Ryan, but heavy hitters in the EU like Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro and vice president of the European Commission.

But this time, Rogoff and Reinhart really screwed up.  They stand exposed for cooking the books but even worse, making simple mistakes in an Excel spreadsheet.  Good grief, there are folks who use Excel to organize their grocery shopping.  This is a commonly used program.  Folks may not understand the nuances of macroeconomics but they know how to categorize folks who make high school level Excel errors.

So last night, Stephen Colbert held up Rogoff and Reinhart to some world-class ridicule.  They may be able to hold their own in an economics debate with Paul Krugman, but they will never recover from being turned into a national joke.  Colbert is very good at what he does and he was on his game last night—he was extremely funny!  See for yourself!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Boston Marathon Bombing meets Institutional Analysis

Even though this blog is about real economics, the temptation to apply Institutional Analysis to the explosions at the Boston Marathon is just overwhelming.  So forgive this diversion.

That fact that the perpetrators are Chechens from Dagestan explains a lot.  Put simply, the Chechens are a people that many Russians want to eliminate from the face of the earth.  Stalin hated them.  Putin basically leveled the Chechen capital of Grozny.  Chechens in Moscow can be subject to physical attacks.  Whether the Chechens are "freedom fighters" (USA State Department) or "terrorists" (Putin's government), growing up Chechen is NOT for the weak or faint of heart.  The fact the Tsarnaev brothers grew up in Dagestan means they started life as economically precarious refugees.

The older brother was named for one of history's more brutal conquerers who has been estimated to have butchered almost 5% of the world's then known population.  So we do not have a child named for a poet.  Folks like that were cast out of the Chechen culture AND gene pool LONG ago.  What's left is pretty ferocious.

So the brothers Tsarnaev come to the USA in time to watch the country invade two countries from their neighborhood on the nakedly fraudulent pretext of fighting terrorism.  In spite of the fact that his economic situation is still very precarious, Tamerlan gets married and has a kid.  As the bills mount up, his uncle determines he is a "loser."  Of course, the uncle fails to mention that in Tamerlan's age group, at least half the earth's population are "losers."  So we have someone who is a stranger in a strange land who cannot figure out any path out of "loserhood."  He is probably furious that no one he knows in USA has any idea what it means to be bombed—as they casually justify the use of drones in countries that they could not locate on a map.

The point here is that those bigots running around the land screaming that this is another example of Muslim "extremism" are barking up the wrong tree.  Tamerlan did not need to fall under the spell of a magical guru, he had overwhelming reasons to be furious by the facts he could see and feel on a daily basis.

Of course, merely being angry does not a bomber make.  He needs the means to get his hands on a bomb.  And here we encounter a major theme in Institutional Analysis—technological diffusion.  The fact that your desktop computer or iPad has far more capabilities and power than all the computers combined at my university when I still a student in the early 1970s is the most obvious example of diffusion.  But technology diffuses in many areas and the massive innovation in cheap, but very effective, Improvised Explosive Devices during the USA occupation of Iraq proves that weapons are just another area.  Turns out cell phones make excellent remote explosive triggers—who cudda known?  Tamerlan did not need a terrorist infrastructure to arm himself—he could build those simple bombs in a garage out of parts he could buy at Wal-Mart.

Welcome to the brave new world—where free-lancers can actually wage war on a primitive level.  One thing is absolutely certain—chasing Muslim "extremism" and cutting off links between terrorist organizations will not stop a Tamerlan Tsarnaev.  And though I don't claim to be an expert in these matters, might I suggest that the best way to stop the Tamerlans of this world from blowing things up is to ensure they have a clear route out of "loserhood."  We simply must give young people meaningful work opportunities.  Otherwise, they will spend their idle time and ingenuity figuring out how to make bombs out of pressure cookers.

Is the long dark night of neoliberalism nearly over?

During the long darkness of neoliberalism, there have been many times when I have been nearly overwhelmed by despair.  It was that crushing feeling I had when I realized the University of Chicago was going to provide economic direction for that sick twisted thug Pinochet.  I felt it when I realized that Jimmy Carter was making it "respectable" for Democrats to be neoliberals.  When Reagan fired the air-traffic controllers and put a Wall Street hack named Regan in charge of the treasury, little Davy Stockman in charge of OMB, and anointed George Gilder as his economic guru, I knew the darkness was going to be long and deep.  I was furious when Bill Clinton ran on a Populist platform and then mutated into Grover Cleveland between his election and inauguration.  I was damn near suicidal over the passage of NAFTA.  Etc.

The flickers in the darkness have been few and faint.  There was The Battle of Seattle when a tiny handful of activists actually managed to close down a WTO conference.  There was the rise of industrial Japan as she basically ridiculed every neoliberal tenant out there. There was the organized opposition to the IMF in Latin America.  But realistically, there were damn few cracks in the neoliberal hegemony I could find no matter how hard I looked.

Truthfully, the only thing that gave me any hope at all was the certainly that because neoliberalism was a ridiculous collection of crackpot ideas, eventually it would fail.  Unfortunately, bad ideas can hang on for a very long time even when they keep blowing up in the faces of the true believers.  So even though I love the sunny optimism of the following article, I am still worried about all the darkness left to chase away.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

More global weirding

It snowed again last night.  It's over a month since the equinox.  The landscape is photogenic enough for Christmas cards. (sheesh)  The local PBS weather guy calls this "global weirding."  Sounds about right to me.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Resource availability in a finite world

To the long list of reasons for why humanity does NOT want to take the steps required to make a meaningful dent in the climate-change problems, we have another—serious investments have been made to secure fossil-fuel resources that literally cannot be burned if we are to avoid a climate catastrophe.  The forces conspiring against meaningful change seem infinite.  Of course, change is inevitable because of facts already baked into the ecosystems. The question is, do we want to control the change or let it happen to us.

Economics—the utterly shameless profession

In 1994, two men named Myron S. Scholes and Robert C. Merton, who shared the 1997 Riksbank Prize (Nobel Memorial) in Economic Sciences for a "new method to determine the value of derivatives", were made directors of a hedge fund named Long-Term Capital Management.  In 1998, these arrogant "Nobelists" had managed to blow through so much money, they nearly brought down the global financial system.  So did these clowns go to jail for fraud?  Did the Riksbank committee demand its prize back—or even decide that maybe they shouldn't be giving out awards to crackpots?  Sadly, no.  Scholes is a professor emeritus at Stanford while Merton graces the halls of MIT.

So it is obvious that economics is a "profession" that is immune from feeling shame.  Apparently, once you have made the inner circle of that club, just being wildly wrong does nothing to damage your career or reputation.  Which is probably what the latest two examples of economic fools gone wild are counting on.  This time the two über-fools, Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, concocted a pernicious piece of garbage that had the effect of ruining millions of lives.  Unfortunately, these clowns couldn't even get an Excel spreadsheet right.  They were busted for not being able to use a program that is run by millions every day.

Will this fiasco have any negative effect on their professional careers?  I would bet NO!  Just remember, their paper became famous because it gave an excuse to the austerians who wanted to crush the poor and middle classes.  In fact,  Rogoff and Reinhart were not expected to actually be right about anything so this minor blotch on their esteemed reputations will be quickly forgiven by the shameless Predators who used their artificially induced catastrophe to make a bundle.  I would not be surprised to see a chair endowed at Harvard in one or both of their names.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A lesson in soft water

We live in a corner of Minnesota where well water has a lot of dissolved limestone in it.  The upside is that it's delicious and plants love it.  The downside is that unless you remove these dissolved "impurities," you may as well not shower, wash clothes or dishes, and certainly not the car.  As a result, water "softeners" are a common piece of the house's hardware.  Cities like Minneapolis soften their municipal water and other places like Duluth gets its water from Lake Superior which is nearly as soft as rainwater.  So water softeners aren't everywhere but in plenty of places.  You can tell when you are in such a locale because salt is sold at gas stations, convenience, and grocery stores.  I live in one of those places.

Our 58-year-old house came with a water softener that dates from the 1970s.  It has mechanical controls which are pretty cool to set.  Last Tuesday, I heard it start its flush / recharge cycle.  Went to bed.  Woke up about six hours later and it was still running.  NOT good.  So I went down to see what might be wrong and discover it is out of salt.  My bad.  I didn't check it often enough—which was especially stupid considering I had no experience with this bit of hardware.  So I shut down the water supply and go shopping for salt.  I come home with 160# (73 kg.) of it.  Load the salt and restart the water flow.  Three hours later I have decided the shut-off problem had not been solved.

Time to call the folks at Culligan because they made my softener.  Not surprisingly, they have an outlet store in my little town.  They scoffed at the idea of fixing my softener  I was told that they had ceased making spare parts in the mid 1980s and stopped stocking them in early 1990s.  I had an obsolete piece of machinery.  I was assured that this was a very common way for my softener to die—and for the modest sum of $2000 they would haul it out and bolt in a new one.  Oof.

That seemed a lot for such a simple appliance.  So I stopped by my nearest big box building supply store and they had a perfectly acceptable softener for $400 + $60 for the parts to hook it into my plumbing.  I went home to take inventory of the tools I had on hand—pipe cutter, propane torch, solder, flux, teflon tape, etc.—and sort of resigned myself to a minimally tough DIY job.

Since we have a Sears appliance store in town, I decided to take a look at what they were selling before I committed to a purchase.  Went online and bless them, they had a downloadable .pdf instruction file.  It was complete and well illustrated.  It was written in good old midwestern (Hoffman Estates, Illinois) English.  And on around page 18 there were instructions for if you ran out of salt—replace the salt and push the Recharge Now button.

Oops!  I had replaced the salt in my softener but then I had simply restored the water flow.  Major facepalm!  My softener had gotten "stuck" in its cycle when the salt ran out and even after I had replaced the salt, it was still confused as to what to do next.  It needed to be rebooted.  It needed a fresh start.  And while this is the FIRST thing you would do to a computer or a softener with electronic controls, it turns out that even (or especially) mechanical controls need to know where to begin too.

I pushed the Recharge Now button and an hour and a half later, I was back in business.  I hadn't spent $2000 OR $460.  I hadn't had to figure out how to dispose of an appliance (another $50).  I hadn't had to hump an 80# (36 kg.) load up and down a flight of steps.  And I didn't need to make fussy modifications to the house's water supply with the possibility it would leak if done wrong.

All this was made possible because someone at Sears had written a good instruction manual and because I so admired its comprehensive approach, I had read it even though I wasn't at all sure I wanted to buy their softener (although after this experience, it will be my first choice whenever the day comes that my softener actually dies.)

Maybe the instruction manual for my softener is still available somewhere but I could not find it in the house.  And given the response the Culligan people gave my dilemma, who knows if the important instruction is in there anyway.  Sounds like they were replacing a bunch of perfectly good parts over the years and selling new (overpriced) softeners to folks with good appliances when the parts ran out.

There were some fine lessons to be learned here.  1) Even if something is designed to be easily serviced, it doesn't help much unless spare parts are available AND the manufacturer is committed to a maintenance culture.  2) It never hurts to read instruction manuals—who knows what gems are contained therein.  3) The landfills of the nation are probably full of perfectly good stuff because folks give up on problems way too soon.

There are probably other lessons.  But the big rewards of this experience were personal.  I saved a bunch of work and money.  I found I was ready to take on simple plumbing jobs.  But mostly, it was fun to solve a problem.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

This is Spring?

After an early Spring, a blazing Summer, and a crackling dry Fall last year, we have had a nearly snowless Winter followed by this long, cold never-ending "Spring."  Seriously, it snowed again yesterday.  We only got about 4" (10 cm) but parts of the state were hammered by over a foot (30 cm) combined with nasty winds to blow it all around.

The birds that stayed the Winter barely noticed our attempts to feed them but those who came back expecting Spring have flocked to our yard.  We had so much left-over bird seed we filled a pie tin to feed the squirrels.

Perhaps the most unusual surprise is that a pair of mallards decided to make a nest in our front planter box.  We will see how this turns out.  The hen lays an egg per day until some magical timer goes off in her head and she decides to start warming / hatching them.  The goal is to have all the little ducklings hatch at the same time.  She is up to seven eggs so we shall see if our duck couple sets up house for real.  We are at least 10 blocks from the nearest water so the march to the river with the ducklings will be quite arduous. (Yes those are decorative lights and yes I know it's April but that is also snow on the ground.  sigh!)

And NO! This goofy weather does not dent my analysis of climate change.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Selling indulgences for carbon emissions does not work

Regular readers are probably well aware that I am not exactly a big fan of cap-and-trade.  I have a whole vocabulary of slander for the idea.  But if you read the following articles, it becomes quite clear that in the world where neoliberals run the economic debate, cap-and-trade is the only game in town.  For those young enough to have grown up after the neoliberals convinced everyone that there was no alternative to their worldview and that history was over, ideas about well-regulated capitalism that were part of the normal discussion in my youth are considered impossible to smart, highly-educated folks as old as 50.  So for them, the failure of cap-and-trade eliminates their best hope for addressing climate change.

We can hope that this set-back for cap-and-trade will force the green policy planners to come up with better alternatives.  I wouldn't count on it, however, because if you actually believe something is impossible at 50, the chance your thinking will evolve is not high.  But here is a thought for those who believe that there are no alternatives to some cut-rate version of Thatcherism.  We are cooking the planet.  The ONLY solution is to stop burning so much carbon.  There. Is. No. Alternative.  The only flexibility comes from deciding on what approach will put out the greatest number of fires.  Cap-and-trade wasn't putting out many (if any) fires so it wasn't a very good idea.  So let's not even TRY to flog that dead horse back to life.

It's time to think big.  We want an all (or nearly all) electric society.  We want the equipment that powers our society to be at least 99% recyclable.  We want economic policies that put our citizens to work building that sustainable society.  And we want to put our fellow citizens to work NOW!  Jeers to the folks who think debts that exist only in a computer chip somewhere are enough reason so that we cannot address the very real debts we owe the planet.  (A longer version of this argument can be found here.)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thatcher and the triumph of finance capitalism

Now that the Thatcher funeral / Tory PR stunt is behind us, it would be wonderful if we could just bury that nasty woman's memory and move on.   But we cannot because there was a good reason why the British robber classes wanted to have a final celebration in her honor.  Thatcher represented a major shift in the thinking of what capitalism was all about.  She not only was the sworn enemy of whatever she believed to be "socialism," she was a "post-industrialist" who was willing to destroy industrialization itself.  And because GB was home to the industrial revolution, the shift from the strategies of industrial capitalism to the sheer goofiness and criminality of finance capitalism was a very big deal indeed.

Like all successful "revolutions," Thatcher was mostly kicking in a very rotten door.  By 1979, British industry was mostly uncompetitive in damn near every field of endeavor—from bicycles to aircraft, from steel to ship-building, and from automobiles to electronics.  It couldn't compete on the low end because of labor costs and it couldn't compete on the high end because British industrial organization was nowhere nearly as sophisticated as Germany's, Japan's, or USA's.

So someone made a decision to throw industry over the side and concentrate the economy on the financial shenanigans of The City.  The question is, WHO?  In the attached article, there is a long list of deregulations, privatizations, and other measures that paved the way between industrialized Britian and the new global model for Finance Capitalism.  The idea that Thatcher dreamed all this up beggars belief.  So even though I don't know if all these crackpot ideas came from her favorite advisor who is identified here as Victor Rothschild, it makes a lot more sense than the notion that Thatcher dreamed them up herself.

The British de-industrialization of the 1980s was followed by the de-industialization of the Russia after the breakup of the USSR and the dissolution of the Warsaw pact in the 1990s.  The fact that these two nations stuck to almost identical plot-lines suggests that both de-industrialization schemes were hatched by the same minds.

So now we have a Britain whose economy is totally and absolutely reliant on financial maneuver.  This is proving to be a VERY bad choice as replicating financial centers is proving to be a great deal easier that replicating industry.  And so as every little drinkwater country opens a financial center, London can only maintain its competitive advantage by resorting to ever more brazen acts of criminal behavior.  Yet, there will be no crackdown on the crimes of The City because if Britain had to compete legally anymore, she could not.

And so today, the Church of England and the British establishment tried to pray this truly evil human being into heaven.  The money quote:
Conservative MPs have showered praise on the bishop of LondonRichard Chartres, for "a terrific address" that humanised Lady Thatcher and challenged the perennial claim that she believed there was no such thing as society.

Some Conservatives said his address, focusing on her faith and personal kindness, would do more to strengthen her political legacy than many of the more divisive, political eulogies delivered in the past week by her former colleagues. more
And there are those who wonder what the clergy do to earn their pay.  Defending a woman associated with an historic shift that has turned into a never-ending series of disasters for Britain and the planet is harder than it looks.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Back in the real economy, climate change complicates matters considerably

One of the more frightening realities of food production is how little the weather patterns need to change to create serious problems.  Sometimes the catastrophe is brutally quick—a three minute hailstorm can wipe out a crop and an overnight downpour can cause millions in lost food and infrastructure.  Sometimes the devastation is more insidious—like a string of excessively warm nights when the crops are pollinating knock 40% off the yields.  In any case, the important thing to remember is that it doesn't take much to seriously impact the global food supply.  And when it comes to growing food, many of the baleful effects of climate change are already here.  Vidal talks about the situation in 2050—he should be worrying about 2013.

The rage backlog

Rall asks an interesting question—why aren't people reacting to bankster criminality with some violent response?

May I have this one Ted?

People have to be provoked a LOT to react violently.  Especially at figures of authority.  Especially figures of authority backed by state power.  I remember the response to the wave of farm foreclosures in the early 1980s here in Minnesota.  The affected farmers were NOT happy.  Not only were they losing their homes, they were losing their livelihoods, and usually a large slice of their family's histories (fourth generation on the same farm anyone?)  So even though these farmers were seething with rage and many quite heavily armed, most of them went pretty quietly.  Yes, the sheriffs showed up to throw folks off the land—in many Minnesota counties that is all the sheriff's departments did for several years.  But most went peacefully—most had been totally beaten down in the futile attempt to keep up with loans that suddenly demanded 20%.  They had to believe that something, anything, was better than that impossible struggle.  Besides, these farmers were people who thought of themselves as the good guys.  A handful of bankers actually were killed but considering the social upheaval in progress, the casualty list was VERY short.

And then there is the matter that bankers can buy "respectability."  They conduct their business in buildings designed to intimidate.  They are good friends with anyone who has some money.  They dress beautifully.  They golf.  They conduct their business in hushed tones.  If this sounds like the tricks employed by the clergy to give credibility to their little scams, its because they are.  And in rural Minnesota, the local bankers were often the financial pillars of their churches in a usually successful attempt to show that they were on the side of the angels.

So Ted, good luck trying to start a riot against the banksters.  Not only do they have state and cultural power on their side, they have the ultimate weapon—insider information.  Just as clergymen traffic in the conceit that they understand how God wants the world organized, bankers retail the notion that they have the secret to magic, painless wealth.  Anyone who opposes them is condemned to a life of shoveling shit.  And amazingly, it works.  The fact is that a bunch of charlatans selling an obvious scam can not only corner the wealth of the planet, but buy academe, governments, and religion—lock, stock, and friggen barrel.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Why we cannot afford nice things—like a livable planet

The "Queen of Mean" Leona Helmsley was supposed to have said, "Only the little people pay taxes."  It looks like she was telling the unvarnished truth.  According to some of these latest revelations, somewhere between $21 and $32 TRILLION is parked in offshore accounts.  So not only are the super-rich escaping the tax man, they are putting their money into accounts that almost certainly do not fund the needs of the real economy.  That's $20+ Trillion chasing currency speculation or making commodities such as food and oil too expensive for most of the world's population.  In any case, this is money that will not be spent funding a solution to climate change or a conversion to a sustainable society.  By parking their money in offshore accounts, the rich have become useless—squared.  By the rules of Leisure Class respectability, this makes them some of the most "respectable" people in history.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Bury TINA along with Thatcher

Of all the claims by Maggie Thatcher, the one I found most annoying was that assertion that we had to embrace neoliberalism because as she said, There. Is. No. Alternative (TINA).  She believed, and wanted the rest of us to believe, that the forces that demanded de-industrialization, the rise of the bankster class, and the "rule of the markets", etc. were forces of nature and the only actions that made any sense were those that led to the best accommodation to these forces.

Thatcher was hardly the only politician who believed this—just the most annoying.  In fact, TINA was believed by Germany's and Sweden's Social Democrats, the Socialists in much of the rest of Europe, Gorbachev's reformers, and the Democratic Party in USA, etc. in addition to all the usual right-wing suspects.  Of course, the fact that the neoliberal plan to bring back the global economy of the 19th century was destined to produce all the horrors of the Robber Baron age was obvious only to those who had some understanding history of economic development.  Which here in USA meant almost no one.  As one of those tiny handful of people who understood that neoliberalism was a recipe for disaster because many of these same ideas had been tried before and failed miserably, I understand on a personal level what it means to be factually correct but utterly ignored.  I was a nobody from noplace even before I decided that I would argue with all those neoliberals winning Riksbank Prizes (Nobels) from the University of Chicago.  If I had not been someone raised to believe that is was occasionally virtuous to be "the voice of one crying in the wilderness" (Matthew 3:3) I would have given up long ago myself.

Unfortunately, neoliberalism IS an unmitigated failure for the vast majority of the human race.  Even worse, it is absolutely incapable of meaningfully addressing the great calamities facing the planet such as climate change.  So when Wall Street and the City start flooding because rising tides make low level land uninhabitable, I fully expect to see the sputtering fools look into the cameras and inform us that Saint Maggie told us, "There. Is. No. Alternative."  And if you actually believe that economic thought stopped evolving some time around 1873, there isn't.  There will be a gathering of these mega-fools on Wednesday for Thatcher's funeral.  The rest of us will be outside singing Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead hoping the the witch's ideology is dead too.  The second part will not be so easy because what passes for the "left" in this world will be mostly represented inside.

But yes, there IS an alternative to neoliberal madness and yes, it has been right in front of us all along.  Just don't expect it to come from the traditional political movements—they have been eating the TINA bullshit for a generation now and have long since forgotten the lessons and struggles of those who defeated Robber Baron capitalism so long ago.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Desertec—a good idea in trouble?

On paper, Desertec is an excellent idea.  The idea is to locate a bunch of solar collectors in the deserted wastelands of the Sahara and then pipe the energy north to Europe through some big fat high-efficiency cables.  Because the sun shines pretty reliably in deserts, this set-up would be reliable enough to provide base-load power.  Since almost no one lives anywhere close to the sites of good collecting, the main problems would be engineering (and financing.)  Some heavy hitters like Siemens and Munich Re signed on.

And techno-junkies like me went "Yea!!!—the first genuine mega-project of the solar age."  (Mostly to myself—but I will admit the idea of Desertec made me happy.)  I figured a project backed by industrial muscle and big money could overcome the tradition hurdles such as local opposition or too much short-term thinking by finance.  What I absolutely did NOT count on how the Euro crises would sap so much innovative spirit.  Damn difficult to sell blue-sky projects in a world where countries are scrambling to stay open for business—no matter how necessary or useful to our possibilities for survival.

Of course, whenever I despair at setbacks to good projects, I am reminded that the Germans are a people who managed to make the Porsche 911 work in spite of the fact it was like trying to fly an arrow feathers-first.  Sheer will can overcome something THAT impossible.  I recently noticed that in 2012, Porsche was the most profitable automaker in Europe.  So if the Germans really want to fill their baseload with Saharan power, they will probably do it.  But first, they (we) must solve the problem of a financial sector run by crazy thieves.  Bankers must become folks who make things happen, not organize missions that destroy possibilities.

Friday, April 12, 2013

New BRICS development bank

That banks are handy to have is hardly a secret.  Banking is, by FAR, the easiest way to get your hands on a bunch of money.  How could it be otherwise?  A bank is an institution that creates money out of thin air—gotta be easier that making money by creating more sophisticated integrated circuits or building skyscrapers.  Of course, that money created out of thin air stays worthless unless it funds activities in the real economy.

Because creating money from nothing is a con, the potential for abuse in banking practice is virtually infinite.  Not surprisingly, it is almost impossible to find an honest banker anywhere on earth these days.  But bankers stay in business because they actually provide useful services.  In fact, when done well, creating money out of thin air is one of those services.  This is especially true when the society is attempting to grow enterprise out of nothing more than good ideas.  That is why at some point, emerging nations discover they really want a development bank dedicated to growing their societies.  And while it's a LOT easier to organize a bank than organize the activities of society that makes money valuable, the predisposition of banksters towards criminality means that there usually a shortage of honest, well-run development banks.

And so we see the BRICS nations are going to organize an IMF-style development bank—less, presumably, the corruption and neoliberal horseshit that infects the thinking of the real IMF.  We can only wish them luck.  After all, as Veblen would remind us, no matter how well-intentioned a bank's design or mission, bankers tend to act like bankers.  Remember, the IMF itself was the product of Keynes' (and company's) idealism.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Stiglitz on Abenomics

Stiglitz thinks the Japanese economic experiments are likely to succeed.  I could not agree more. And I especially agree with his reasoning.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Shale gas—an idea that smells of failure and fraud

Regular readers know I have been highly skeptical about getting natgas from shale.
  1. It is an expensive and highly polluting way to get at gas.  Worse, the pollution goes into the groundwater which is MUCH more valuable than whatever tiny bubbles of methane that can be found.  
  2. Shale deposits are very small which means the production life of fracked wells is very short.
Expensive to find and recover mixed with short production lifespans is a combination virtually certain to lose someone a large pile of money.  And the idea that fracking will lead to energy independence is nothing short of lunacy.  But energy independence is a seductive sales pitch in a land where the population has had their world-views absolutely shaped by the language of war-mongers.  Here in the Midwest, corn-based ethanol was touted as another road to energy independence.  Just one problem—the energy in ethanol is less than in the high-grade petroleum used to make it.

Here is the view of shale gas from the Gazprom CEO—a guy who has conventional gas to sell the world.  But just because he has a vested interest in seeing shale gas fail, this does not make him wrong.  As someone who thinks shale gas is an even crazier idea than corn-based ethanol, I find it refreshing that an oil guy can be so brutally honest.

Ding Dong! the witch is dead!

It's probably bad taste to blast someone before the family has had a chance to organize their funeral rituals.  But in the the case of Margaret Thatcher, I feel no such restraint.  She was 87 and has had plenty of praise over the years—she was the subject of a Meryl Streep movie for goodness sakes.  And when you tote up the damage the woman caused over her career, she set back civilization by enough to rank as one of history's all time evil creatures.

GB is awash in Thatcher's victims and they seem to be willing to (literally) piss on her grave.  I am more interested in those historical characteristics that make her legacy so horrifying even for those of us with no personal grievances.  Because even six time zones away, Thatcher's madness had a profound effect on my own life.

The first question is: Just how much of Thatcher was invented by Thatcher herself?  Obviously her public persona was hers, but her policy issues likely were not.  Did she really think that de-industrialization was a good idea for a country that invented industrialization?  Did she really think that a nation of that size and complexity can fund itself as a global banking center?  Etc.  On reflection, my guess is that when it came to issues like these, she was merely a designated spokesdork for whoever was cooking them up.  British universities are home to a host of crackpot "intellectuals" who were just dying to see their theories put into practice.  And out of heaven comes this shopkeeper's daughter who could sell such rubbish.

Thatcher faced a British "left" in intellectual and organizational disarray.  British industry was in serious decline long before Thatcher showed up.  There are many explanations for Brit industrial problems but one big reason was the poisonous hostility between ownership and the production people.  And while they fought, other industrial nations out-organized them to the point where soon the very idea of quality British goods became laughable.  For much of this sad state of affairs, great blame can be laid at the feet of Marxist class theory.  In their world, the fight between the classes explains everything—stop fighting and you die.  By contrast, in the world of reality where the survival of the factory is necessary for the survival of everyone who works there, the problems that unify owners, management, and production workers are many and the only potentially divisive question is, How does the pie get divided?  In Producer Theory, the classes are not mortal enemies—they share important things in common.  In my telling, the British "left" wasn't worth a shit when it came to opposing those who would close down British industry and sell it for scrap because in fundamental ways, they were just as anti-industrial.

But whether or not Thatcher is personally responsible for all the damages caused by her politics, the fact remains that policies put into place during her prime ministership are causing problems to this day.  The rule of unrestrained banksters has corrupted our financial system to the point where the best we can hope for is that the IT guys in the bowels of the big banks are going to hold everything together.  The biggest Thatcher annoyance for me here in USA was watching her provide gloss to Reagan's economic strategy.  They were both singing from the same songbook but neoliberalism just sounded more educated with a British accent.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Populist experiment starts

The ghosts of Jacob Coxey, Ignatius Donnelly, William Jennings Bryan, L. Frank Baum, A. C. Townley, Edison and Ford are grinning from ear to ear.  Me too!  Most people forget that Populism (the real thing) was about economics and more specifically, the kind of economics that allowed the Producer Classes to thrive.  This was the economics of economic development needed by folks trying to claw out a living from the virgin soils of the frontier.  Now we find an economic development specialist at the head of the central bank of Asia's (still) most interesting economy.  I would rate his chance of success at near 100%.  Strategies like Kuroda's have an astonishing track record.

Monday, April 8, 2013

What passes for genius these days

The lives of the privileged are shocking to the rest of us.  They are routed through the institutions of the elites.  They have tutors to help them with their learning problems and lawyers to get them out of the scrapes their carelessness gets them into.  They have publicists to assure the rest of us that we are dealing with people of real accomplishment.  Doors are opened to careers the rest of us have barely heard of.  With such advantages, almost any dullard can become something of a "success" unless they are caught in bed with a dead boy.

There are so many examples of this phenomenon that pointing one out is hunting in a target-rich environment.  One of the better examples has to be William Kristol—the political pundit who is never right about anything yet never seems to go away.  Eventually, the curious among us must ask—where the hell did he come from?
“The talk turned to William Kristol, then Dan Quayle’s chief of staff, and how he got his start in politics. Irving recalled how he talked to his friend Harvey Mansfield at Harvard, who secured William a place there as both an undergrad and graduate student; how he talked to Pat Moynihan, then Nixon’s domestic policy adviser, and got William an internship at the White House; how he talked to friends at the RNC [Republican National Committee] and secured a job for William after he got his Harvard Ph.D.; and how he arranged with still more friends for William to teach at Penn and the Kennedy School of Government.
In economics, while there are many neoliberal mediocrities who are wrong most of the time, some of them are more blessed than others.  But the most privileged bumbler of them all must be Lawrence Summers—the nephew of two Riksbank Prize winners.  (This guy belongs in the same class as Doug Haig, the British general who is most associated with the Battle of the Somme—a little tiff that cost over 400,000 British casualties and moved the front less than 8 miles.  For this accomplishment, the Brits made him a Field Marshall—which pretty much explains why there is no more British empire.)  Here is a recap of the man's insanities by someone more willing than I to recount them.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Instinct of Workmanship now threatens the Euro

"If it is your job to slop the hogs, then slop the hogs to the glory of God."

This was one of my father's favorite lines and he managed to include it in many of his sermons for his congregation of farmers.  And with the possible exception of their great music, this so very Lutheran attitude towards work is easily its most important cultural asset.  If you are a good Lutheran, you not only want to do quality work yourself, you expect others to do it too.  You believe that if everyone does good honest work, the community will benefit and its essential problems can be more easily solved.  And because you respect work and fine workmanship, you believe in good working conditions and fair pay for those who put in a honest day's work.

Not surprisingly, a culture that believes such things about work and workers tends to be highly successful.  Unfortunately the Germans are finding out that their cultural notions about work can be so effective, folks may just as easily come to envy and hate them as follow their lead.  Quite obviously, it is the German respect for work that drives their economic and cultural success because just as obviously, their politics are still pretty primitive, their arts do not influence much outside their borders, and their military has been out of business since 1945.

Unfortunately for those hard-working Germans (and some others up north), the various Euro crises means they might find themselves picking up the tab for the financial catastrophes of the south.  The German attitudes to this most unfair state of affairs is to essentially lecture their fallen neighbors—work harder, work smarter, pay your fair share of taxes, and attack all forms of public and commercial corruption.  And for this, Frau Merkel gets pictured as the second coming of Hitler.  None of this has a chance of convincing the Germans that their attitudes towards social organization are wrong—or even close to it.

The following article from The Guardian tries to explain the German powerhouse created by people who respect quality work.  Some of it is quite insightful.  Much of it is silly.  For example, much is made of the fact that German culture underperforms because it has so few films and novels anyone wants to read.  What makes such claims absurd is that German culture reaches into every corner of the world because it has chosen to produce acts of creative genius that are MUCH more complex and difficult than films and novels—like Mercedes Benzes.  Damn difficult to find a country where there is no one interested in that manifestation of German culture—and willing to spend a great deal more than the price of a movie ticket to get one.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Baghdad Bob got it mostly right

The conventional wisdom is an awesome thing.  When you are on the side of it, it doesn't matter at all if you have facts or reason on your side.  You can say damn near anything and no one will ever call you out.  But get on the wrong side of the conventional wisdom and suddenly you are forced to defend 2+2=4. And there was no better example of this being true than the example of Iraqi spokesman Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf during the USA invasion of his country—the guy who came to known to the American public as Baghdad Bob.

Sahaf would go on television and say something historically and militarily obvious like you cannot occupy a country of 26 million people who hate your guts.  The USA response to Sahaf was utter ridicule—he obviously did not understand how freaking powerful we were.  Ha. Ha. Ha.  Guys like Leno thought he was so funny they were almost reduced to tears of laughter.

Before someone reminds me that we are seeing the power of state propaganda I would tell you a story of a friend.  He is reasonably skeptical and understands the power of manufactured consent.  Not long after the Invasion of Iraq had gotten under way, I listened as he wondered aloud if the great tragedy was that because toppling a government was now so easy, we now would be tempted to try it in many more countries.  I tried to settle him down by reassuring him that Napoleon had proved pretty conclusively that getting to Moscow was damn easy compared to staying there.  When we get to Baghdad, we will soon discover we are just some rowdy tourists who cannot read the street signs or buy the simplest things in the markets because we don't speak the language.  Even our best-intentioned acts will annoy the locals.  We will get hungry and our tanks will run out of gas and suddenly we will be strangers in a very strange land.  Easy?  Please be serious. The point here is that the convention wisdom that turned Sahaf into an object of scorn in the West Wing of the Bush White House was feeding my friend's dark visions of USA in the world.

But lest you think that we learned anything about mistrusting the conventional wisdom because of our disaster in Iraq, watch otherwise sentient beings scramble to come up with more novel ways of passing an austerity agenda in spite of the global failure of anything that even smacks of austerity.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Krugman the free trader

The last time I got seriously involved in politics was back in 1993 when a tiny group of like-minded souls tried to get our congressman to vote against NAFTA. Our rep's name was Tim Penny and even though he was a nominal Democrat, he had a world-view that would have made him good friends with a Paul Ryan.  To his credit, he showed up at the rally we organized and actually stayed for awhile.  Unfortunately for us, he obviously did not hear a word we had to say.  He voted for NAFTA.

One of the good memories of that otherwise disappointing effort was of our attempts to build a strong intellectual case against something that was being supported by a Democratic President and the overwhelming majority of the "liberal" establishment.  My attempts to argue that "free" trade was probably a bad idea can be found here.  But while this effort was a pretty lonely enterprise, we had one over-riding source of inspiration.  William Greider wrote a book entitled One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism that thoroughly covered the valid objections to the prevailing "free" trade zeitgeist.  I must have read it three times.

A young up-and-coming economist named Paul Krugman called the book "thoroughly silly."  I have never quite forgiven Krugman for this—which partly explains why his views do not show up more often on this blog.  So I must say I much enjoy this gentle reminder that between Greider and Krugman, it was the the Riksbank Prize winner at the NYT who was the silly one.  Only those evil idiots who cheered the invasion of Iraq were more consistently wrong than the liars and fools who sold us NAFTA.

So thanks, Mr. Greider, for pointing this out.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Cap-and-trade is still a bad idea

Of all of neoliberalism's truly stinko ideas, cap-and-trade is one of the worst.  The idea here is that an activity which is polluting will be "offset" rather than corrected because it is too expensive to fix.  So folks line up activities somewhere far, far away that qualify under some bureaucratic notions of plausibility as being an offset to a coal-fired plant in an industrialized nation or jet trip to somewhere the planet's most carbon-blessed deem interesting.  And of course, since this is neoliberalism, the most important part of this madness is a "market" where these offsets are traded.  Because the market is never wrong and ordained by Milton Friedman (God), they believe, virtue will triumph and magically the pollution problems of the planet will disappear.

Seriously, there are plenty of highly educated people who believe this shit.

The problems with this worldview are just staggering.  First of all, those far, far away places have problems of their own.  They cannot be expect to fix them AND the problems of the industrialized nations.  This leads to bigger problem #2.  The environmental damage caused by the industrialized world must be solved at the source of generation.  Pollution is a function of industrial design decisions.  Therefore it must be solved at that level.  Every "fix" that does not lead to solving pollution at the source is not a fix at all—rather the ravings of charlatans.  What is so utterly crazy about cap-and-trade is that its most pernicious effect is that it allows (forgives) pollution generators for their sins and allows them to postpone fixing the real problems—essentially forever (or forever in the minds of the worshipers of the market).  But hey, cap-and-trade is modeled on the concept of indulgences—the Catholic con that sparked the Protestant Reformation.  What could possibly go wrong?

Because cap-and-trade is a con game, that fact that it doesn't "work" as advertised should surprise absolutely no one.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Well, that was fun...NOT

Last Friday night, I attended a small-town fish fry.  It was loud and mostly enjoyable.  But by Sunday dinner, it was clear that I had eaten something that did not agree with me.  As someone with a cast-iron stomach, I did not recognize the symptoms but I sure felt lousy and soon was forcefully expelling not only the remnants of the fish fry, but a damn good Easter Sunday dinner.

I was pretty lucky.  One of the women who attended the fish fry with us caught the same bug.  Only she got so sick she fell and her sister called an ambulance. Spent the night in the hospital being pumped full of fluids and being treated for nausea.  My home remedies worked probably just as well and I am certain they were much cheaper.

By last night, I was feeling pretty good so I decided to eat some solid food.  I might have a cast-iron stomach but now I sounded like one of those old steam radiators as my traumatized digestive system gurgled back to life.  Bad decision.  So for a second night, I didn't get much sleep.  But I'll be fine.

So if any of my readers have wondered if I had somehow gone "off my feed," it turns out this was literally true.  And it will take awhile to get my electrolytes back to normal and eating regular food.  But there are interesting stories to follow so I am not going anywhere.

Well, duh! USA media doesn't inform us of much of importance

Chris Hedges used to write for the New York Times.  The filtering process one must go through to get such a job is damn amazing.  Not only must you have demonstrated some remarkable writing chops, but you must have a record that shows you are utterly reliable in the service of the conventional wisdom.  Unfortunately, these two requirements are often (usually) in conflict so eventually folks with genuine skills and integrity find themselves questioning to some degree the conventional wisdom.  At that point, these folks usually become ex members of the establishment press.

This leaves the mediocrities behind and over the past generation, they have turned the USA mass media—which was not all that special to begin with—into an unwatchable, unreadable mess.  And while the NYT may still be better than say, Fox News, neither are worth the time and effort to consume.  Even as an ex member of the establishment press, Hedges finds this outcome appalling.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Will they end public banking with another trade agreement?

Regular readers know that perhaps my favorite good idea is public banking and the best example is the tiny, but significant, Bank of North Dakota (BND).  A fascinating woman named Ellen Brown has taken it upon herself to spread the word of how wonderful an idea public banking really is.  She might have done too good a job.  So long as BND was this obscure institution in a state no one knows anything about, the big guys did what they usually do with things like this—they ignored it.  Now it seems like they intend to put BND out of business with a trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  BND would be categorized as a non-tariff trade barrier.

Lest anyone not believe that such things are possible, they are—as anyone who followed the sad history of NAFTA will tell you.  It is also VERY likely that a Wall Street toady like Obama would sign such a treaty in a heartbeat.

What follows is a few internal links to posts I have created on BND.  This is followed with an excerpt of an article explaining the hazards posed by Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Water consumption—another reason to hate coal-fired electrical generation

One would think that someone building up a brand new energy infrastructure would be seriously looking at previous attempts in order to avoid the same mistakes that were made in the past.  But since this is China, one would be wrong.  Not only is China installing more coal-fired electrical power plants, she is buying some of the most water-intensive designs and siting them in some of the most arid places on earth.

As the saying goes, "If you will not learn from the mistakes of others, eventually you must learn from you own."  And by the way, learning from your own mistakes is much more painful and expensive.